Acting as shadow campaigns, the political committees backing the major presidential candidates supported them with tens of millions of dollars in chartered planes, luxury hotel suites, opposition research, high-priced lawyers and more, spending reports showed Friday.
Campaign disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission underscored how far the candidates went in outsourcing many of their traditional campaign operations to Super PACs, which face much looser regulation.
The Super PACs, which have dominated the fundraising landscape in the 2016 campaign, reported that they had raised a total of at least $245 million this year, with individual donations of $1 million or more to Jeb Bush, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and others.
In all, 57 million-dollar donors together were responsible for $119 million donated to GOP and Democratic Super PACs by June 30 -—more than 40 percent of the total raised by those groups.
The reports show that the Super PACs rushed to raise and spend a huge amount of money this spring in the months before many candidates formally declared they were running for president.
While the Super PACs maintain that they complied with all fundraising laws, watchdog groups denounced the massive spending detailed in the reports as evidence that many of the candidates were improperly circumventing limits on fundraising.
While donations to the candidates themselves are capped at $2,700, wealthy donors were able to give unlimited amounts to the Super PACs supporting them — with a top contribution of $11 million given to Cruz's committee by hedge fund investor Robert Mercer.
Houston private equity investor Toby Neugebauer gave $10 million to another Cruz Super PAC. Kelcy Warren, a Dallas energy executive and the national finance chairman for former Texas Gov. Rick Perry's campaign, gave $6 million to two pro-Perry Super PACs.
Wisconsin roofing billionaire Diane Hendricks, who is supporting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, donated $5 million.
"Today's revelations will just make voter cynicism about politics even worse," predicted David Donnelly, president of Every Voice, a Washington group that supports tougher campaign-finance and influence-peddling restrictions. "How will candidates convince voters they aren't beholden to $10 million donors?"
Page upon page of expense reports filed by the political committees cataloged almost anything a candidate might need to run a campaign — from luxury hotel rentals and catering to pricey advertising campaigns, website development and office supplies.
The Super PAC supporting Walker, for instance, reported the donation of the use of a chartered jet valued at $70,000 from John Catsimatidis, the billionaire supermarket owner.
Priorities USA, the Super PAC supporting Clinton, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyers, accountants and political consultants.
Another committee backing Cruz went big on fundraising phone calls, spending $60,000 in a span of a few weeks to ring potential donors for more money, the filings showed.
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A committee backing former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee paid more than $28,000 for film shoots. One supporting Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky bought $45,500 in advertising time. An organization behind Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina spent almost $33,000 on lawyers. And the Super PAC supporting Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey paid $28,402 to buy mailing lists.
Information from the Washington Post was used in this report.